Auto-Brewery Syndrome: A Fake or Real Defense?

Just like the G.E.R.D.S. defense receiving reasonable scrutiny on the authenticity of the matter in terms of the amount of individuals who claim the defense, a newer syndrome called auto-brewery syndrome is in the limelight as a shaky defense as it just helped to dismiss a DUI case against a Buffalo, New York woman.

Hamburg Town Police arrested a motorist last year who had a measured blood alcohol content of .33 percent at the time of the stop, which is more than four times higher than the state’s legal limit. The case itself involves a 35-year-old school teacher who was on her way back from visiting her parents when her tire ran flat. She decided to drive it that way until she arrived at home, since her house was close enough.

However, a concerned driver called 911 as a tipster to let local police know that the driver’s 2010 Toyota Corolla was “weaving all over” the road.  Officer Daniel Gallardo of Hamburg reported that he noticed the Corolla’s right front passenger tire was flat and the vehicle was producing “a large amount of smoke and a noticeable smell of burning rubber.” The officer also stated that the driver had alcohol on her breath and “exhibited glassy-bloodshot eyes and slurred speech.” The woman told the officer that she did have three alcoholic beverages earlier in the day; however, the blood alcohol amount registered for the time of the stop and the amount of alcohol that she drank throughout the day does not logically measure up to the .33 percent BAC acquired at the time of arrest. And while she did say that she felt “a little woozy” that night, she did not feel as though she was incapable of driving the rest of the way home.

Still, as this case is bizarre in its nature and novelty, the Hamburg Police Chief Gregory G. Wickett said he is confident that his officers made the right move in charging the woman with a DWI. He states, “She was highly intoxicated, as shown by the Breathalyzer. Our officers did the right thing in getting her off the road. Whether she has a medical issue that caused it is not for me to decide.”

Further, an experienced DWI attorney in the Buffalo region, Michael Taheri stated, “Regardless of the woman’s medical condition, it does not change what the Hamburg officers observed when they charged her. It does not change the results of the Breathalyzer or blood tests. The average person would be falling-down drunk, or falling asleep at the wheel at a stop light. At a level of .30 or higher, you would be in danger of alcohol poisoning and most cops will take you to the hospital because of concerns about your safety and health.” [1]

While the state district attorney is appealing the decision, the medical evidence does conclude that she has an issue with her body where it has become attuned to functioning with high blood alcohol content. After she eat carbs, the sugar converts to alcohol because of yeast in her body. Upon a change in diet and anti-fungi medication, her body was back to normal conditions.
But does that merit her functionality at the time of arrest? That is to be determined.

The History of Auto-Brewery Syndrome

Gut Fermentation Syndrome is a relatively unfamiliar phenomenon in Western Medicine and has been studied in other areas of the world where a few cases have emerged. This syndrome, also called Auto-Brewery Syndrome and Endogenous Ethanol Fermentation is described as a syndrome whereby patients become intoxicated without ingesting alcohol. Instead they become intoxicated by an overgrowth of yeast in the gut where the yeast ferments carbohydrates into ethanol. Furthermore, a study performed by researchers, Bivin and Heinen, observed in the Journal of Applied Bacteriology studied the production of ethanol from infant food formulas due to common yeasts. They found that combining five infant food formulas and/or supplements with four common yeasts such as C. albicans, C. tropicalis, Torulopsisglabrata, and S. cerevisiae produced an outcome where out of all the mixtures of yeast and carbohydrate, S. cerevisiae created the highest.

  1. cerevisiae or Saccharomyces cerevisiae and better known at brewer’s yeast, has a very well-known history and life cycle because of the brewing industry. Nevertheless, this type of yeast is in a whole assortment of foods including breads, wine and, of course beer. Usually, the yeast doesn’t do anything to a body, other than flow right through it and out the other end. But it turns out that in some cases, the yeast can stay in the gut and possibly cause problems, such as converting carbs into ethanol [2].

The scant history of the syndrome makes its uniqueness pretty interesting.

  • The earliest known cases were in Japan were 12 cases were documented. In one specific cause, a 24 year-old female who because intoxicated after consuming carbs fermented in the gastrointestinal tract. In this case, they were able to determine the causative agent by cultures in the woman’s stool.
  • Another case of particular to note is where a 13 year-old girl with short gut syndrome became intoxicated after ingesting carbs just as the former 24 year-old woman. For her situation, she was placed in a rehabilitation facility with no access to alcohol. Aspirates from her small intestines grew yeast which fermented the sugar. After treatment with fluconazole, the symptoms resolved.
  • The most recent case belongs to a 61 year-old man who, in 2010, was deemed a closet drinker after he “stumbled into a Texas emergency room complaining of dizziness”. After a breathalyzer test, the man’s blood alcohol concentration was .37 percent, or almost five times the legal limit for driving in Texas. However, the man claimed that he had not drank alcohol that day. Dean of nursing at Panola College, Barbara Cordell and Dr. Justin McCarthy took the man in and isolated him for 24 hours in a hospital room where he ate carbohydrate-rich foods and where the doctors periodically checked his blood alcohol content. Eventually, his blood rose to 0.12 percent. After all was said and done, the doctors figured out that the culprit was an overabundance of brewer’s yeast in his gut [3].

Dolman Law Group

The G.E.R.D.S. defense and the Auto-Brewery Syndrome defense, while applicable to the true sufferers of the condition, do not stand well for the overall defense of DUI drivers. Drivers who claim this defense must go through extensive medical testing to make sure that they qualify for it. If it’s found that they do suffer from these diseases, it is up to the defense to prove it to the judge.

However, in many cases, DUI’s happen because of another driver’s negligence of other motorists, pedestrians, motorcyclists and bicyclists’ safety. If you or a loved one has been involved in a car accident with a drunk driver, you are entitled to compensation and damaged owed by their actions. Please call the experienced DUI attorneys at the Dolman Law Group to help you today. The number to dial is (727) 853-6275. Schedule a free consultation and evaluation for your claim.

Dolman Law Group
5435 Main Street
New Port Richey, FL 34652
(727) 853-6275